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What working women can learn from productivity in ants?

A few days back I came across an infographic titled 7 Productivity Lessons from Ants. Packed with wisdom and insights, I loved reading it. Refer below to the details.

7 Productivity Lessons from Ants

7 Productivity Lessons from Ants

Source: http://visual.ly/7-productivity-lessons-ants

As a working mother, I’m always looking for ways and means to improve and enhance my productivity. After all, we are trying to do things as quickly and efficiently as we can every single day. And honestly, whenever I see or read or think about ants, I almost always go back with a lesson. They are small, hard-working, focused and do what they have to do!

So based on the wisdom from ants, and my own experiences, I am sharing a few points in this post. These are not about how to excel at the workplace, but really about how to maintain a balance between the expectations and demands of your professional life and the expectations and demands of your personal life. I’m not an expert in this department and I’ve not figured it all out. It is work-in-progress for me, but I do have more than a decade of experience of things that work and make a difference. I only strive to share what has helped in my journey this far with a hope that it may help you – sometime, somewhere

So without any further ado.

Focus – on the things that matter

Look around you at anyone who achieved anything in life – and you will see one defining characteristic. That is FOCUS. Focus is important for anyone in life, but more critical if you are a working woman.

a. Be focused on what you need to accomplish at work for a day, week, month, quarter, year. Keep your eyes on the end goal and objective. In between, even if you deviate, that’s OK! But make sure you come back on track as soon as you can. The best way to do this is to write down what you need to accomplish for a specific time horizon, and look at it at the start of every single day. That will ensure you are on track, at least as you start each day!

b. Be crystal clear on what all you need to do as a part of your personal life (in terms of things to do at home) and for yourself. Identify what is absolutely essential, and let go of everything else. Either outsource or delegate or just let it be. In the long run, many trivial things that you are stuck up about (in terms of your thoughts, time and energies) are really not worth it. For example, I used to be a stickler for a clean, well-organized house every single day, and anything below my expectations was not acceptable. Over time, I realized that this was taking up a lot of my time and energy, taking me away from what I really wanted to do and it really did not matter to others .With time, I relaxed my own benchmarks and go easy on myself. And when I do embark on a house cleaning exercise, it is usually time-boxed.

c. Give undivided time and attention to the task at hand and make sure you complete it. Say NO if and when you have to say NO – To people, friends, distractions, phone calls, TV, Social Media, the spouse, the boss, mummy, spouse, kids et al. The sooner you learn to say NO, the better for you.

Most importantly, as they ants do – focus on one small thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a working woman’s boon, but for things which need to be done really well – Do it one at a time.

Build your team and collaborate

As a working woman professional, you will realize that the sooner you put together a good team to help/enable you at home, the more effective and productive you will be at work. What I really mean by this is to build and nurture a team within the 4-walls so you can be the best possible you at work. From experience, I can say the following are critical members in your core team:

Your maid/helper/cook – will always be on the No. 1 spot. Trust me, you really cannot be a working woman and have this wrong!
Your spouse – needs to be highlighted because he plays a critical role in what you can do at home and work. This usually determines how far your career will go! It is for a very good reason that Sheryl Sandberg says, “The most important career choice a woman makes is who she marries“
Your family – especially your mom, your mother-in-law and your kids
Your friends
Your neighbors

Most importantly, as the ants do – recognize that you will go farther if you collaborate as a team.

Develop a routine that works for you

I can’t emphasize this enough. Suffice to say, create a routine that works for you. Stick with it. And see the magic unfold. It seems very simple and logical. But for many working women, it takes years of experience, many, many failures and serious introspection to come up with the right routine. And once you do, everything falls in line.

As a working woman, you should have the following routines planned out – a daily routine, a weekly routine and a monthly routine. Among other things make sure your daily routine has time for eating right and healthy, catching up on the news and general reading. Make sure your weekly routine has time for exercise, doing something you love (‘ME’ time) and speaking to one/two people in your friends and family network. Networking is critical in the long run, and many working woman lose out here. Ensure your monthly routine has some time to learn something new. Constantly learning, re-skilling, cross-skilling and up-skilling is the need of the day. This can/should include professional learning.

Most importantly, as the ants do – follow a routine to become more efficient and effective.

Communication

Make sure you communicate things that need to be said in a clear and concise fashion – at least to those who play a critical role in your life. Be sure to express clearly what you really want and expect from them – especially your core team at home. Be real and reasonable on expectations from others. And most importantly, say it, and listen to what they have to say.

As a working woman, I’ve burnt my fingers many times by assuming they know. They DON’T! Be it your maid/domestic helper, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your team – assume they don’t know till you clearly call things out for them – in terms of what you will do, and what they will do. And what is non-negotiable! Many times I assume they are OK; many times, they are not OK. So make sure you listen and pay attention to what they have to say. It makes all the difference.

Lastly, to communicate clearly you need to be clear in your head. That clarity usually takes time to get, but it is well worth your time. Be clear in your mind. Be clear in your words.

Most importantly, as the ants do – focus on communicating right and to the right people. And yes! Listen. Communication is two-way.

Stay Positive

Being a working woman is not easy. Being a working mother is tough. I speak from experience here. As working professionals, many women face gender discrimination, workplace bullying, harassment, slow-paced career progression, questionable compensation, unsupportive workplace environment and outdated policies. They are the realities of the environment and ecosystem one is a part of. And there is no easy way to survive, and no magic mantra to thrive.

And yet, every single working woman I’ve met or known has to be positive if she is to have a fair shot in her career. So stay positive and be positive. Read positive messages/books/blogs, speak to positive people and think positive.

Most importantly, as the ants do – Look ahead into a great future.

Set Deadlines

The beauty of a deadline is that there is a line drawn, and the bane is that the line dies somewhere before we get there! So the universal truth is that most deadlines are really not deadlines – they end up just as moving line! As a working professional, it becomes critical to define what a deadline means to you and then set some deadlines – for your own well-being. For e.g., at work, it is important to set deadlines around how long you will stay at work on most days (critical for your personal safety), how soon you will complete tasks assigned to you, how fast will you be able to demonstrate your value, etc.

Similarly, at home it becomes critical to put deadlines around phone conversations and general chit-chat/gossip, TV time, bed time, social media/FaceBook time, etc. Each of these deadlines if consciously defined, and judiciously worked towards will ensure success in the long run.

Most importantly, as the ants do – bring on board your advocates, your allies and your brownies before the storms.

Division of Work

Does this need explanation? Especially for things at home – identify what all needs to be done to keep your house going: cleaning, shopping, home maintenance, cooking, paying bills, etc etc. And then, divide the work or delegate the work – to family, friends or anyone else who can help you. The sooner you figure out the art and craft of division and delegation, the more productive and successful you will be at the workplace and in life!

Most importantly, as they ants do – clearly define the roles and responsibilities. Share it. The sooner people know what they have to do, chances are they will do it sooner than later.

These are some of the points that worked for me. What has worked for you? Leave a comment to let me know.

 

Originally published here

To Recognize, Respect and Reward “THE Coach”

A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.” BY Tom Landry

A few days back, I was watching the presentation ceremony of the CNN IBN Indian Of the Year Award for 2013. To those of you who don’t know, the CNN IBN Indian of the Year Awardrecognizes the Indian(s) whose contribution to the country in a calendar year has strengthened the foundation of our society and has helped build Brand India in the process.”For more details, click here

To be honest, none of the winners really surprised me. They were all achievers in their own sphere of work and had made a mark. Until I heard the announcement of the Winners of the Outstanding Achievement Awards. Cricket coach Ramakant Achrekar has been declared as the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year 2013, in the Outstanding Achievement category. The reason isHe has coached many young cricketers at Shivaji Park in Dadar, Mumbai. He is the man who first spotted the exceptional talent of master blaster Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin came to Achrekar as a young student and it was under his keen supervision that Tendulkar’s ability was nurtured. Achrekar was always a hard taskmaster who ensured that his star pupil would make rapid strides in the game. Indian cricket owes Achrekar a debt of gratitude.”

At this point, let me make a disclaimer. I am NOT a cricket fan, nor do I worship / idolize any cricketer. I RARELY watch cricket matches (Like once in a year maybe!). Neither have I ever really played cricket. Oh wait! I did play cricket. Twice. The first time when I was a kid of about 10 years and I was bowled out on a duck :(. The bowler was mighty pleased. No prizes for guessing why? And the second time was when I played a corporate cricket tournament (in my early 20′s) in which as per company policy every team was supposed to have 1 woman employee and 1 employee above the age of 40 years. My friend was the captain of the Cricket team, and begged / pleaded / coaxed / bribed / bullied me into playing the match on his side. We closed the deal with these terms and conditions – No matter what the outcome was – I would be treated to an ice-cream, and we would continue to be friends! Thanks to my stars, I was last in the batting order. Unfortunately for me, my batting turn did come :( and we needed 2 runs to win, 1 run for a draw and 2 balls were left. Sigh! The nail biting finish. After some last minute “coaching” (grilling and quick and dirty practice sessions from my captain friend) I was on the crease. As the ball came towards me, I became numb. Everything blurred. And the ball went straight to the wicket. Clean bowled for a duck.. Again! And that ended my cricketing career. I was certain that I did not want a hat-trick. True to his word, my captain friend treated me to an ice-cream and we are friends even today. I had to endure his somber and morose expression at the ice-cream parlor when I was digging into the ice-cream. Honestly, I couldn’t care any less.

The other thing that I do know about cricket rather well is this. To shut up and flee when there are any “cricket related” discussions or banters in my vicinity.  And to let the “men in my life” have the TV remote and the “last word” as far as cricket is concerned! You’d think I’m wise, right? yes, I think so too :)

Sorry to digress, but coming back to my post. My interest piqued when I heard the announcement citing the award to Ramakant Achrekar. Simply because I HAVE NEVER REALLY SEEN or HEARD an AWARD being given to a COACH.

Why NOT?” I wondered…”Did it actually take the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar to retire from his glorious cricketing career to honor his coach?

My thoughts took me to the recent Bollywood movie “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”. The one thing that really stood out for me in the movie was the role of the coach in the success of Milkha’s journey and life. It was a coach who identified the “running talent” in a young boy. It was the coach who provided the required guidance, the required technique, the tricks, the tools, and the support (moral, emotional, mental, physical) – especially in those vulnerable moments. It was the coach who believed in him. It was the coach who gave the much needed inspiration and motivation at those critical moments. It was the coach who pushed him to frontiers which he never knew existed. It was the coach who never ever gave up on him. And it was the focus, efforts and dedication of the coach (along with his own efforts) which took Milkha to the victory stand.

And yet, in real life

Why do we fail to RECOGNIZE the efforts and contribution of the people who “COACH” others?

Why do we fail to RESPECT the the efforts and contribution of the people who “COACH” others?

Why do we fail to REWARD the the efforts and contribution of the people who “COACH” others?

After all,

It is the RIGHT COACHING which transforms an individual / team from good to GREAT

It is the RIGHT COACHING which takes an individual / team to the pinnacles of SUCCESS

It is the RIGHT COACHING which truly makes a DIFFERENCE

Now, let’s get personal?

Can you go down memory lane and think of all the people who coached you? The coach(es) who believed in you even when you gave up? The coach(es) who nudged you and pushed you till the finish? The coach(es) who were “hard” on your for your own benefit? The coach(es) who guided you, who molded you, who made you give your very best…

Pause and Reflect

Did you say THANK YOU to those who coached you?

Did you give REGARDS and RESPECT to those who coached you?

Did you push for you coach(es) to be REWARDED for all that they did for you?

If not, you can do it today..

The video of Ramakant Achrekar’s moment of glory is below

Working Mothers : This is for YOU

A few days ago, I had written a post on this blog Working Mothers – The “Real” Issues. The post got a lot of readership (Thanks to all those who read it) and also many people wrote back, and asked if there were any suggestions on how to deal with some / many of these.

Looking back at my own life – Ever since I became a mother myself, I have a new found respect and admiration for all working mothers.
No matter what you do
No matter where you live
No matter what else you do
If you’re a working mother
Hats off to you

Simply because every working mother had to deal with several “mini-projects” as I call it on a daily basis
Project 1 : Kids (A to Z)
Project 2 : Work / Career
Project 3 : Food and Cooking
Project 4 : Husband (Yes! A full time project )
Project 5 : Friends
Project 6 : Home Maintenance
Project 7 : Family
Project 8 : Self
Project 9 : Miscellaneous / Others
Just listing it down exhausted me! Then imagine how exhausting it would be to manage every single one of them, every single day!

Well, thankfully along the way I figured a few Mantras to make it easy for myself. In this post I am sharing my mantras with the hope that it may resonate or help you

Mantra 1 : Re-define Perfection
One of the most important milestone in my journey as a working mother was when I let-go of “PERFECTION”, rather I re-defined it. Yes, I accepted that everything and everyone will NOT be “perfect” all the time (even in my own eyes). And that’s OK! It’s OK if you don’t look your best always, It’s OK if you don’t have the cleanest house always, It’s OK if your cupboards are not the best organized always, It’s OK if you don’t get the BEST MOM Award everyday, It’s OK to say “No” at work – when the situation warrants, It’s just OK……. That single moment was the “Nirvana” moment :)

Mantra 2 : Let Go of Control
There is a strong co-relation between women and their need to control OR feel in control of things. Up to a point, it is good! Beyond that, it is ?.
As a working mother, it is important to acknowledge and accept that you will NOT be in control of everything all the time. Just re-calibrating your own expectations of what in in your control, and what is out of your control helps tremendously.
Next, finding realistic and practical ways to deal with situations which are beyond your control helps tremendously in finding balance between professional commitments and personal priorities

Mantra 3 : You are not a SUPERWOMAN ; Accept limitations
Yes! You are not born a SUPERWOMAN. You have your set of limitations, constraints and realities to live with. You have only 24 hours in a day, and only 2 eyes, 1 nose, 2 ears, 2 hands & 2 legs – like everyone else! You have your share of highs and lows, ups and downs, emotions, trials and tribulations.
Most importantly,
(1) You cannot possibly make everyone happy all the time
(2) You may not be able to live up to everyone’s expectations all the time
(3) You may put yourself before others – sometimes or many times
All the (3) above are perfectly OK.

Mantra 4 : Ask “Will this REALLY matter 10 years from now?”
One of the most powerful question I ask myself when I have a tough time deciding things is “Will this REALLY matter 10 years from now?”. More often than not, I see the situation in a totally different perspective, and find satisfactory answers to whatever situation I am facing. Try it the next time you are up against a brick wall, and you will experience the difference.

Now I’d love to hear your Mantras. Leave a comment to let me know

Are you crystal clear about the ROLE(s) that you play?

Over the recent past, one of the points which was repeated umpteen times during my conversations with several people was around ROLE CLARITY. All these discussions made me pause and reflect on why ROLE CLARITY is so important in today’s day and age…

Fundamentally What does ROLE CLARITY really mean?
Firstly, what are the very many roles you play in life as a part of your professional and personal life? For e.g.: most of us play the role of a child, spouse, parent, teacher, student, friend, professional, citizen, etc.
Secondly, what are you accountable for as a part of these roles and who are you answerable to? For e.g.: As a blogger, one is answerable to themselves and to the readers. It is the blogger’s responsibility to ensure that quality content is published (w.r.t original content, well thought out, interesting content,supported by relevant data & facts, and literally accurate with respect to grammar, spelling, punctuation,etc.) on a regular basis on your blogs
Thirdly, are the people / environment around you in-sync with your understanding of your role ,i.e, Is there a general consensus and agreement on this with people who matter in your life?

Let me illustrate my point with a few examples.
A very succesful business woman I know who is also the mother of a teenage girl said this during our conversation “If I look back at my life, one of the reasons for my success at work and life in general was phenomenal clarity on my roles and responsibilities from the very beginning – especially at home. To be very specific – It was my responsibility to put food on the table. Whether I cooked or got someone to do the cooking or ordered food from outside, I was accountable for it! There was a very clear and explicit understanding between me and my husband around this. And though I initially resisted taking this up, I later realized that it was actually good simply because I knew what I had to do at home on a daily basis. And hence, I used to objectively plan to ensure that food was laid on the table on time. To be honest, life was a lot easy for all of us. Not only did it give me an opportunity to ensure that healthy food was served, but it also helped me in planning my activities and enlisting the required help to ensure this is addressed on a daily basis.
Role clarity is especially important for women. And more so for working mothers. One of the reasons for a lot of stress in the lives of women is due to this. Most working mothers somewhere don’t know what is their PRIMARY ROLE at home and hence tend to ignore key domestic responsibilities or take undue stress in life

The second example I quote is from a personal mentor and guide whom I deeply respect. He said to me during a conversation “One of the reasons why many of us have problems is that we don’t have clarity on our roles – either at work or at home. And this state can put immense pressure on you simply because it is hard to deliver anything in life if you don’t know what is expected of you. And role clarity for yourself is just one part of the story. Your immediate environment and ecosystem including the people who matter the most should also be aligned with your point of view – Else you are on the path to …..”

The reason I emphasize this and even wrote up a post is because as I reflected on my own life and spoke to people around me, I observed the following visible charactertics
1) Lack of clarity on the roles that one plays
2) Lack of clarity on the relative priority of the roles that one plays
3) Lack of clarity on the key responsibility and accountability associated with each of the roles
4) Lack of general consensus from the environment / ecosystem around our roles is fairly common

So pause and reflect.
Are you clear about the many ROLES that you PLAY?
Are you clear about the responsibilities associated with these many ROLES?
Are you clear about the relative priority of the responsibilities?

What’s you view on this subject? Leave a comment to let me know

What is the Services Business really about?

All my life I have been a consumer of services – from education services, to phone services, to training services, to IT services, to hospitality services, to tourism services, to luxury services, to healthcare services, to beauty care services, to cleaning services, to security services, to home maintenance services, to postal services, to courier services, to financial services, to transportation services, to dining services, to lifestyle services, to automobile services, to customized personalized services, to plumbing services, to information services, to research services…etc. etc. etc.

And as a part of my professional life, I have also been a provider of many types of services – IT services, consulting services, training services, advisory services, maintenance services, support services, technology services, marketing services, writing services, blogging services, etc. etc. etc.

Having seen and experienced both worlds, I many times wonder about the following questions:
• What is the Services BUSINESS really about?
• What are you paying for when you consume a service?
• What do others pay for when they consume a service you provide?

As I step back to unravel the answers to these questions, I discovered understood and amassed the following key takeaways:
1) The SERVICES BUSINESS is about selling TIME
In any service transaction, there are typically two key entities. The service provider or the one who provides the service and the service consumer or the one who consumes the service. In most instances the service consumer typically pays for the service, though not always. For e.g: If you visit to a spa for a treatment on beauty care.. Though you are the consumer, it is possible that you’re family / friend / spouse / children pay for the services you consume and enjoy!

So what is that you pay for when you consume a service?
Fundamentally when you pay for a service, you are paying for someone else’s time.

Let us take a few examples to explain better:
Example (a): Take the of research services.
When you pay for a research paper, what exactly are you paying for? If you pause and reflect, you are really paying for the data, insights, methodology, analysis and conclusion that went in to create the research paper.
So who really created the research paper? The researcher
And what did the researcher really put in to create the research paper? His / her time

Example (b): Take the case of IT related services.
When you pay a company for IT related services, what exactly are you paying for? If you pause and reflect, you are really paying for the IT systems or solutions that are being developed, supported and maintained?
So who really does these IT related activities? The employees of the IT Company
And what do the employees really put in? Their time

Example (c): Take the case of consulting services. For e.g.: Financial advisory services, Legal services, Medical services
When you pay for any of these services, what exactly are you paying for? If you pause and reflect, you are really paying for the advice and knowledge being shared with you for your specific question / problem?
So who really provides these services? A financial advisor / A lawyer / A medical practitioner
And what do they really put in? Their time

2) The price of a Service is based on the PERCEIVED VALUE in the eyes of the Service Consumer
The most interesting discovery was the fact that the price you pay for any service you consume is dependent entirely on the PERCIEVED VALUE of the service in the eyes of the Service Consumer!

And the beauty of VALUE is that it is personal, subjective and subject to change any moment. But in essence it is a function of knowledge, skill and attitude of the service provider. So this presents ample opportunities for a service provider to enhance / elevate his / her own positioning in the eyes of the service consumer! What is critical to note is the fact that while it takes focused time and effort to create a perceived value in the eyes and mind of a service consumer, it is equally difficult to change a pre-existing perception. And hence, it is worthwhile to invest conscious time and effort to effectively manage these perceptions in the consumer marketplace.

3) The THREE possible ways to earn more revenues from services are
(i) Increase the number of hours
(ii) Increase the hourly rate
(iii) Increase (i) and (ii) above
The simple math for the Services revenue equation is below:
Services Revenue = (Number of Hours) X (Rate / Hour)

So if you want to increase the Services revenues you can generate – one option is to work more number of hours. Again, there is a limit to how much you can humanly stretch because there are only 24 hours in a day! And there is a limit to how many days of your life that you can actually stretch

And hence the next best option is to increase the Hourly Rate for your services. And the fact is that the rate is dependent on the perceived value of the serviced from the service consumer’s point of view.

So to really differentiate yourself in the long run in the services business, it is imperative that you invest in enhancing and elevating your own value as perceived by the service consumer. And this is really a function of two variables – The value you actually bring to the table and the perception in the eyes of the service consumer! Many of us spend a lot of time in creating and building our own value through self-study. Unfortunately, we don’t spend a proportionate amount of time and effort on self-promotion! That is the key to management of others perceptions of you..

In Conclusion:
The Service Business is really about SELLING TIME
And since everyone has time, everyone has the opportunity and potential to be a Service Provider!

Pause and Reflect –
What services are you providing today?
What services do you want to provide tomorrow?

The 7 Treasured Lessons from Corporate Innovation Experiences

I’ve been part of different corporate innovation initiatives from 2008 till date. And during this tenure, the most noteworthy change is that corporate innovation has transitioned from “Nice to Do” to “Good to Do” to “Must Do”…

Along this journey,
• I have had the opportunity to play a diverse set of roles and shouldered varied responsibilities – The key ones being a Business Owner to a Project Manager to a Business / Process Analyst to a Marketing / GTM (Go-To-Market) Specialist to Solution Specialist to Requirements Specification Owner
• I have interacted with a diverse set of individuals – internal and external to the organization {partners, analysts, customers (Diverse domains, Diverse positions in the organizational hierarchy [starting from the CEO to end-users] and from different parts of the globe}
• I have been involved in diverse kinds of innovation projects – from business to technology to process; each with a different team composition (2 to 20)

And the bottom line is this – Each of these initiatives achieved a different level of success.

How do you define the success of a corporate innovation?
The answer is simple and straight forward: The innovation initiative should generate the promised Return on Investment. If not, it is usually considered a failure in the business sense.

Going purely by this definition, I’d have to confess that some of the corporate innovation initiatives that I’ve been a part of were SUCCESSFUL and some were FAILURES…

Did we have cool ideas? Sure – We did!
Did we have a grand vision? Sure – We did!
Did we have a great team? Sure – We did!
Did we build what we set out to? Sure – We did!
Did we win business? Sure – We did!
Did we impact the organizations brand image in a positive way? Sure – We did!
Most importantly, Did we LEARN, GROW and EVOLVE? Sure – We did!

In this article, I will list the 7 TREASURED Lessons from the experiences in CORPORATE INNOVATIONS that I was a part of:
1) There are three distinct phases in the Innovation Life Cycle and each requires a different mind set
2) Your idea need not be unique; How you position your innovation makes all the difference
3) The Business Plan is just a baseline plan
4) When you start the GTM [Go-To-Market] activities can make all the difference
5) The first customer is the most crucial in your journey to success
6) Corporate Innovation should be a priority from the top
7) Internal communication and collaboration is critical to succeed

For full reading, refer to my artcile in the IIMB Alumni Magazine | Summer 2012 (pages 22 – 25)

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